Next week is children’s mental health week. Pupil mental health should be a priority in schools, but this isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, supporting mental health, can be left by the wayside in favour of teaching to tests or trying to cover every aspect of a comprehensive curriculum. Luckily, some schools are ensuring to provide excellent support systems for pupil mental health, ensuring it’s a day-to-day priority.
I’ve included some ideas for supporting pupil mental health based on my own experiences in schools. As I’m not an expert, I’ve also added some useful websites where you can access information and resources.
Here are 10 things you can start doing now:
- Talk about it
Let’s correct the misconception that you should always feel happy. It is okay not to be okay, it’s okay to feel many different ways. Yes, being positive is great and we should encourage this, but children shouldn’t feel alienated because they are unhappy.
- Give them the words
Children need to know how to express their feelings. It is so important to teach feeling-based vocabulary as well as key phrases and what they mean. Part of giving them the words is also giving them the confidence to speak up.
- Safe spaces
In your classroom, build a safe place for pupils to go when they need some quiet reflection time or time to talk. You may want something pupils can show you to say that they need to talk, or that they just need some time to themselves.
- Training for staff
Staff CPD can be costly in terms of money and/or time, but in this case it really is worth it. Having an expert in schools is a great idea as they can pass on relevant training to all staff, and they can provide support for the staff members themselves. A teacher does not want to be a position where a student needs their support and they don’t know how to give it or who to ask for help.
- Assemblies and special days
Use some of your whole school assemblies to support well-being and plan special days dedicated to mental health. Where possible, link these to awareness days and current news to give these events extra meaning.
- Teaching values
Spend time teaching and embedding core values such as kindness, empathy and resilience. Feed this into your everyday language and teaching, e.g. “Don’t worry that you made a mistake. You’re resilient, so I know you’ll learn from it and do even better next time.” Reward these values to reflect on their importance.
- Be a role model of mental health
Personally, I think this is the hardest one on the list as teachers have a huge workload to manage, but you need to look after your own mental health.That means taking breaks, not judging yourself too harshly and knowing you can only give what you’ve got to give. A stressed, frazzled, worn out teacher does not model to children how important it is to take care of yourself.
- Be consistent
Teachers who are consistent make their pupils feel safer in their environment and this is key to mental health. Being consistent helps build trust and positive relationships with your pupils.
- Involve parents
Provide resources for parents and involve them in special days. Your strategies will be far more effective if they are being used at home too.
- Embed e-safety
We’ve all heard reports about how screen time, social media, online gaming etc. can potentially have an impact on mental health. Although there are differing opinions about what that impact is and how severe, we do know that, without the right support, children can be vulnerable online. If children are not equipped with the skills and knowledge to use the internet safely, they are at risk, and this can of course impact on their mental health.